, March 2014
Pleasing interpretations of symphony arrangements that are pure genius!
Uwe Grodd has been part of the furniture at Naxos for decades. He has released great recordings on the label, particularly as a conductor of Viennese Classical works. Many people have no idea that he is also a professional flautist, even though he studied flute alongside conducting in Mainz and has pursued careers as a soloist and as a conductor with equal commitment up to the present day.
Many of the albums to which he has contributed are among the hot tips in the Naxos catalogue. But his latest album is a veritable coup!
Johann Nepomuk Hummel was the only one of Mozart’s pupils to have been granted a successful career as a soloist and as a composer after he had completed his apprenticeship to the Viennese master. When the elderly Haydn came to suggest someone to succeed him at the Esterházy court, Hummel was his first choice. After Mozart’s death, Hummel pursued his studies with Salieri, and he was bound to Beethoven in a problematic friendship freighted with competitive posturing as well.
Wow! So why ever hasn’t Hummel’s music been far better known and more often heard for a long time? After all, there are quite a few recordings of his works.
Well, it’s probably because Hummel was quite happy to be a successor to Mozart (in the same way as, for example, Ferdinand Ries remained essentially an imitator of Beethoven to the last). Hummel wasn’t a trailblazer driving forward the development of the musical genres of his day, and he seems to have had no interest in being seen as a revolutionary in the music world.
And so, right up to the present day, we have been told one thing above all about Johann Nepomuk Hummel: Simply wonderfully beautiful music, but lacking that certain something that we – spoilt, narrow-minded, and often inappropriately demanding – nowadays positively expect of the composers who were Mozart’s successors.
This new Naxos album demonstrates what an accomplished composer Johann Nepomuk Hummel was. And that is nowhere more obvious than in these arrangements of three great late Mozart symphonies, which are universally regarded as masterpieces of the classical repertoire. Hummel proves here what a genius he had for instrumentation, and what astounding tricks he was capable of to make a four-person chamber ensemble sound as full-bodied as if it were a genuine chamber orchestra.
That in the process Hummel was not beyond changing the musical substance of Mozart’s scores occasionally, making little alterations and adding his own emphases here and there, points less to a lack of respect than to amazing mastery, and a degree of personal enterprise. Anyone who has heard an arrangement that simply reduces the forces without a bit of ingenious compositional help knows how colourless such transcriptions can sound.
Here things are totally different: Hummel has managed to retain the luminosity and visionary aura of Mozart’s symphonies by not so much transcribing the pieces as translating them for the forces of flute, violin, cello and piano.
Anyone who thinks that is easy knows nothing about the immense demands of good instrumentation and respectful musical interpretation.
And this album demonstrates, perhaps more than recordings of Hummel’s own compositions, what genius we are dealing with. But such consumate ability demands a congenial performance.
With Uwe Grodd (flute), Friedemann Eichhorn (violin), Martin Rummel (cello) and Roland Krüger (piano) coming together, we have here a quartet that gives an absolutely inspiring performance of this music – here it’s not just technical perfection that counts, but above all the kind of deeply felt playing that is now seldom heard. And so this recording can take on any really good orchestral interpretation any day, and it is bound to come out well.
Given that balance engineer Erich Pintar has produced an album that also boasts good sound quality, I dare to hope that this superb team will follow up this top-notch album with Hummel’s other Mozart arrangements. There’s still the transcription of the “Jupiter” Symphony for the same forces, and several arrangements of piano concertos for chamber ensembles. I admit that just thinking about it gets me excited! © 2014 The Listener